As Congress works to rewrite the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and improve accountability systems for public schools across the country, Data Dashboards: Accounting for What Matters—a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education—highlights how going beyond a test score when assessing achievement in schools and districts provides more transparent and precise ways to continuously track performance, monitor accountability, and ensure the most at-risk students are not lost in the numbers.
“Think of data dashboards like an automobile dashboard,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Rather than providing a single number like a test score to show whether a school is succeeding or not, data dashboards provide an array of information about school performance and practices, enabling educators to quickly identify and address areas in need of improvement.”
Data dashboards are based on the idea that numerous individual performance indicators, such as academic achievement and leadership, correct the shortcomings of accountability systems that rely on a single test score or combine indicators into a difficult-to-interpret index.
“This is about more effective accountability and improvement, and there is an important federal role,” Wise said. “Data dashboards provide the opportunity to review a wide range of data for all students, especially those who have traditionally been underserved. Most important, data dashboards call educators and others to action in response to student needs. This notion of requiring support and intervention in response to student data must be incorporated into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it is currently lacking in Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) discussion draft.”
The U.S. Department of Education granted forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico flexibility from key provisions under NCLB (known as “ESEA waivers,”) and a number of states are heading in the right direction, according to the report. States such as Georgia and Kentucky are including more indicators of school performance within their accountability systems. Still, the report notes a majority of waiver states are using an index rather than a dashboard which may limit the effectiveness of their efforts.
States such as California, which requires districts to measure school performance among eight dimensions, and districts such as Monroe County, Georgia, where performance is measured on more than seventy indicators, are among the very few assessment systems that account for two crucial indicators: (1) measures of college and career readiness and (2) the performance of student subgroups. An appendix included with the report notes that only five states that have received an ESEA waiver and are using an index include indicators for college and career readiness. In addition, seventeen states with indices only consider the performance of traditionally underserved students within one indicator of their index. Data dashboards would help address these issues, the report argues.
The report also offers policy recommendations to help states and districts to develop data dashboards that provide the right indicators for their students and teachers and set realistic goals once indicators are in place.
Data Dashboards: Accounting for What Matters is available at